Transplant Nutrition and Fitness Do’s and Don’ts

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Life before and after an organ transplant is filled with medical and emotional highs and lows. Patients must learn a “new normal” and may have to modify many aspects of their lives.

One that’s not as often discussed is diet and exercise. Patients may wonder what kind of restrictions they now must now take into consideration. Are there some things that can’t be eaten? Are there lifestyle changes that need to be made? Simply put, the answers to these questions are yes, but what’s the complete picture?

Read on below to learn more about diet and exercise for transplant patients.

How can a patient prepare for an organ transplant through their diet?

    Patients should try to follow a healthy, well balanced diet before transplant. Reducing sodium intake reduces blood pressure and fluid retention and often helps patients remain more mobile and active.

    A diet of adequate protein is also important in maintaining muscle mass, functionality and overall nutrition, while also helping with a quicker recovery. The amount of protein a patient needs before transplant will vary depending on their individual weight and which organ they are hoping to receive.

    For those hoping to receive a kidney transplant, follow your dialysis unit dietitian’s guidance with your diet. If you are pre-dialysis, your dietitian will provide information during your evaluation pointing out foods that are rich in potassium and phosphorus you may need to limit.

    Does a patient have to watch their diet after an organ transplant?

      Yes, diet still plays a big role after a transplant. It is important to maintain a healthy weight and be physically active on a regular basis.

      A post-transplant healthy diet includes: controlling blood sugar, avoiding excess weight gain and closely following all food safety and handling precautions. Your lab results will initially be monitored very closely after transplant and even with a new kidney, for example, you may still need to adjust your intake of high potassium or phosphorus foods. These levels and your new organ’s function can both be affected by your new medications.

      Why would a patient need to avoid certain foods?

        After a transplant, patients will need to take immunosuppressive drugs, also known as anti-rejection drugs, for the rest of their lives. These medications help lower the risk of a new organ being rejected. However, these drugs also weaken the body’s ability to fight infection. Taking these medicines increases your risk of getting very sick from germs, so it is key to assure all food and beverages you consume are handled properly. Avoid any cross contamination or consuming any food that may be spoiled/rotten/past its expiration date.

        Patients may also need to take steroids post-transplant, which can cause unwanted weight gain, increased blood fat levels and salt and fluid retention. Making healthy food choices and sticking to appropriate portion sizes can help patients avoid gaining too much additional weight.

        Patients should keep in mind that excessive weight gain after transplant can lead to recurrent/new fatty liver or renal disease in their new organ.

        What are some foods to avoid?

          As previously mentioned, transplant patients should avoid food that is spoiled, moldy or past its “use-by” date, in addition to raw or undercooked meat, poultry and seafood, including finfish and shellfish.

          Patients should also not consume unpasteurized milk and foods made from unpasteurized milk, like cheese and yogurt and uncooked or undercooked eggs and any products containing them.

          Some fruits and vegetables are off limits, as well including grapefruit and grapefruit juice; pomegranate and pomegranate juice (especially if one of your immunosuppressive medications is cyclosporine or prograf); unwashed raw fruits, vegetables and salads; damaged fruits; unpasteurized juices and ciders; and sprouts (like alfalfa or bean sprouts).

          Who can help patients plan a proper diet after their transplant?

            A registered dietitian at a transplant center can help patients eat healthy post-transplant.

            Can a patient exercise after a transplant?

              Exercise and physical activity should be a regular part of life after an organ transplant to continue improving overall physical and mental health.

              Regular exercise after a transplant helps boost energy levels and increase strength. It also helps maintain a healthy weight, reduce stress and prevent common post-transplant complications such as high blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

              Your transplant team will recommend a physical activity program based on individual needs and goals. After surgery you must check with your physician when it is appropriate to resume exercise and what type of exercise you plan to do at that time.

              April is National Donate Life Month and Ochsner is proud to raise awareness about the lifesaving gift of organ donation. Ochsner has successfully performed more than 7,000 organ transplants to date, making us the most experienced transplant center in the Gulf South region. Learn more at

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